The philosopher mediating alone in his study is a cliché of western culture. But behind the hackneyed image lies a long history of controversy. Was solitude the ‘school of genius’, as Edward Gibbon claimed, or did it breed irrationalism, dogmatism and melancholy, as Dr Johnson and others insisted? In the 1730s David Hume suffered a breakdown which he attributed to his solitary philosophising; three decades later, in a much-publicised quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau,Hume attacked Rousseau’s reclusiveness as ‘savage’, ‘bestial’,the mark of an ‘arrant madman’. A life of lone thought was pathological: a judgement that still finds echoes in present-day concerns about social isolation and loneliness.
Barbara Taylor is Professor of Humanities at Queen Mary, based in the Schools of History and English andDrama. She is currently leading a 4-year project, ‘Pathologies of Solitude,18th – 21st C’, funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Come join us to celebrate the recent publication of three monographs by three Victorianist scholars here at Queen Mary: Professor Catherine Maxwell's Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture(2017), awarded the 2018 ESSE Book Prize for Literatures in the English Language, Dr Matthew Ingleby'sNineteenth-Century Fiction and the Production of Bloomsbury: Novel Grounds(2018), and Dr Heather Tilley'sBlindness and Writing: From Wordsworth to Gissing(2017).